Decade Review 2009

Why 55 is the new 50

Numbers indicate that the noughties was the best decade for batting in a long, long time

S Rajesh

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Jacques Kallis was in good touch again as he calmly constructed another fifty, South Africa v England, 2nd Test, Durban, December 26, 2009
Jacques Kallis was one of seven batsmen who averaged more than 55 in Tests in the noughties © Getty Images
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That the noughties was the decade of the batsman isn't in doubt - pitches became easier, boundaries became shorter, bats became heavier and meatier, and fast bowlers lost their pace. Peter Roebuck analyses these aspects here, but in terms of numbers what all of this translated into was the best 10-year period for batsmen since the 1940s.

In 464 Tests in the last decade, the overall average runs per wicket was 34.17, with 945 centuries. Similarly, the ODIs produced the highest run rate ever - 4.89 - with a whopping 261 scores in excess of 300, more than three-and-a-half times the figure in the previous decade.

Batsmen clearly ruled the roost in the 2000s, but despite it the 2000s was also the decade with the lowest percentage of drawn Tests in almost 100 years. The Durban Test between South Africa and England was the 350th match to produce a decisive result in the decade (it was fitting that both Boxing Day Tests ended decisively), a decade percentage of 76. In the 1990s only 347 Tests were played, and yet 124 ended in draws, 10 more than in the 2000s.

The Test stats for top-order batsmen (Nos. 1 to 7) in each decade indicates that in the 2000s there was a hundred scored every 12 innings, the best frequency since the 1940s, when a century was scored every 10 innings. The average runs per dismissal in the last decade was 38.37, but in the last three years - 2007 to 2009 - it went up to 39.97, which suggests that the early part of the 2010s will see more of the same.

Batting averages of the top seven batsmen by decade
Decade Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s Inngs per 100
1930s 89 71,474 37.38 158/ 324 13.12
1940s 45 39,444 41.13 103/ 178 10.20
1950s 164 118,135 32.42 229/ 551 17.09
1960s 186 153,494 36.36 290/ 802 15.74
1970s 198 163,518 36.72 357/ 805 13.50
1980s 266 201,672 35.86 434/ 965 14.15
1990s 347 268,662 35.34 537/ 1376 15.39
2000s 464 397,384 38.37 918/ 1874 12.22

The most telling stat in ODIs was the number of scores of 300 or more - what was once a rarity became the norm. In the 1980s, a 300-plus total was scored, on an average, once every 43 games; in the 90s it came down to 13.14, and in the 2000s it reduced further to once every 5.38 matches. It became even more frequent in the last four years, with 145 such scores in 467 matches - an average of one in 4.32 games. The eight highest scores in ODIs - all of them more than 400 - were scored during this period.

Australia and India led the way with 47 scores of 300 or more in the last decade, well ahead of Pakistan, who had 35. India were also at the forefront in terms of conceding more than 300 - they did it 40 times, well clear of second-placed Zimbabwe. Not surprisingly, India hosted the most matches in which 300 or more were scored, closely followed by South Africa.

Decade-wise ODI stats
Period ODIs Average Run rate 100s/ 50s 300+ totals ODIs per 300+
1970s 82 26.22 3.93 24/ 139 5 16.40
1980s 516 28.61 4.38 134/ 983 12 43.00
1990s 933 29.28 4.58 315/ 1916 71 13.14
2000s 1405 30.00 4.89 565/ 2958 261 5.38

The biggest indicator of batting dominance in the last decade is the number of batsmen who averaged more than 50 in Tests. There used to be a time when an average of 50 separated the truly great batsmen from the merely good ones, but going by the numbers in the 2000s, the definitions need to change. Among batsmen who played 30 or more innings in the top seven in the 2000s, 21 had an average of over 50. (It would have been 22 had Kevin Pietersen scored a run more - he finished with an average of 49.98.) Given that 116 batsmen qualified under these criteria in the decade, more than 18% of all batsmen averaged on the right side of 50. In the 1990s, only five out of 94 batsmen qualified, a percentage of 5.32. In the 2000s, seven averaged more than 55, which suggests that 55 is perhaps the new 50 in terms of a benchmark for the truly great.

Decade-wise Test stats for batsmen in top seven (Qual: 30 innings in top 7 in the decade)
Decade Tot. no. of batsmen Average >= 50 Percentage
2000s 116 21 18.10
1990s 94 5 5.32
1980s 69 5 7.25
1970s 55 6 10.91
1960s 51 7 13.73
1950s 44 5 11.36

The table below lists the top batsmen of the decade in Tests, against all teams and against the top eight. Most of them benefited slightly due to the opportunities to play Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, but for a couple of players it worked in reverse - VVS Laxman and Justin Langer averaged more than 50 against the top sides, but their averages slipped to below 50 when numbers against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh were included. Sachin Tendulkar and Steve Waugh were among those whose runs against the two lesser teams helped their overall decade averages go past 50. Even excluding runs against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, 20 batsmen averaged more than 50 in the 2000s, which indicates just how good a period it was for batting.

Top Test batsmen in the 2000s (Qual: at least 30 innings in the top seven)
Batsman Runs (all teams) Average 100s/ 50s Runs (top 8 teams) Average 100s/ 50s
Andy Flower 2206 63.02 6/ 11 1968 61.50 5/ 10
Ricky Ponting 9456 58.73 32/ 40 8837 57.75 30/ 36
Jacques Kallis 8630 58.70 27/ 42 7813 55.41 24/ 39
Mohammad Yousuf 6439 58.53 23/ 23 5714 54.41 20/ 20
Gautam Gambhir 2553 56.73 8/ 10 2235 54.51 7/ 9
Kumar Sangakkara 7524 55.32 21/ 32 6112 51.79 17/ 26
Mahela Jayawardene 8187 55.31 25/ 30 7023 53.61 20/ 27
Rahul Dravid 8558 54.85 22/ 42 7320 51.54 18/ 36
Inzamam-ul-Haq 4978 54.70 17/ 22 4455 53.03 14/ 22
Brian Lara 6366 54.41 21/ 19 5971 53.79 19/ 18
Hashan Tillakaratne 1573 54.24 5/ 4 1404 56.16 5/ 3
Graham Thorpe 3145 53.30 10/ 15 2901 51.80 10/ 12
Steve Waugh 2825 53.30 11/ 9 2430 47.64 9/ 7
Sachin Tendulkar 7129 53.20 21/ 31 5758 47.19 15/ 29
Matthew Hayden 8364 52.93 29/ 29 7507 50.38 26/ 26
Virender Sehwag 6248 52.50 17/ 19 6049 53.06 17/ 18
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 6435 52.31 19/ 35 6029 54.31 18/ 34
Michael Hussey 3638 51.97 10/ 19 3396 50.68 9/ 19
Thilan Samaraweera 3824 50.31 10/ 21 2970 46.40 8/ 14
Michael Clarke 3919 50.24 12/ 17 3824 51.67 12/ 17
Younis Khan 5260 50.09 16/ 21 5007 51.09 15/ 20
VVS Laxman 6291 49.92 14/ 37 5970 51.02 13/ 37
Justin Langer 5994 48.73 18/ 21 5864 50.55 18/ 20
Kevin Pietersen 4799 49.98 16/ 16 4799 49.98 16/ 16

If the batsmen had it so good, then obviously the bowlers suffered, which is exactly what the numbers show. The runs conceded per wicket for bowlers went up to 34.10 for the decade, which, again, is the highest since the 1940s.

Bowling averages by decade in Tests
Decade Tests Wickets Average 5WI/ 10WM
1930s 89 2536 32.15 114/ 23
1940s 45 1271 35.34 58/ 6
1950s 164 4818 28.54 233/ 33
1960s 186 5546 32.10 216/ 23
1970s 198 5896 31.90 228/ 31
1980s 266 7474 32.09 346/ 55
1990s 347 10,204 31.51 425/ 55
2000s 464 13,863 34.10 522/ 79

Of the 85 bowlers who bowled more than 3000 deliveries in the last decade, only 19 of them averaged less than 30, which is 22%; in the 1990s, 50% of the bowlers fitted into this category, which indicates how much the bowlers slipped. Of the top six wicket-takers of the decade, five averaged more than 25, and three more than 30.

Decade-wise stats for bowlers (Qual: 3000 balls bowled in each decade)
Decade Tot. bowlers Average<25 Percentage Average>=25 and <30 Percentage
2000s 85 9 10.59 10 11.76
1990s 66 10 15.15 23 34.85
1980s 56 9 16.07 12 21.43
1970s 53 6 11.32 19 35.85
1960s 47 4 8.51 18 38.30
1950s 39 16 41.03 13 33.33

Of the top five bowlers in the decade in terms of Test bowling averages (with the 3000-ball cut-off) only one, Muttiah Muralitharan, is still active, and his recent performances suggest he is on the slide. Shane Bond's retirement from Tests is a massive blow for the bowling fraternity, whose hopes now rest on promising younger bowlers like Mohammad Aamer and Kemar Roach to ensure that their plight in the 2010s is better than in the decade gone by.

Best bowlers in the 2000s (Qual: 3000 balls versus all teams)
Bowler Wkts (all teams) Average 5WI/ 10WM Wkts (top 8 teams) Average 5WI/ 10WM
Courtney Walsh 93 19.73 5/ 1 84 20.25 5/ 1
Glenn McGrath 297 20.53 14/ 2 289 20.53 14/ 2
Muttiah Muralitharan 565 20.97 49/ 20 432 23.48 35/ 15
Shane Bond 87 22.09 5/ 1 63 26.22 4/ 0
Shoaib Akhtar 144 22.21 11/ 2 117 23.27 10/ 1
Mohammad Asif 73 23.01 5/ 1 73 23.01 5/ 1
Stuart Clark 94 23.86 2/ 0 93 23.29 2/ 0
Dale Steyn 172 23.97 11/ 3 150 24.96 10/ 3
Shaun Pollock 260 24.76 6/ 1 242 25.20 6/ 1
Shane Warne 357 25.17 21/ 6 340 25.33 20/ 6
Jason Gillespie 209 27.09 5/ 0 185 28.88 5/ 0
Darren Gough 94 27.42 3/ 0 85 28.28 3/ 0
Ryan Sidebottom 77 27.70 5/ 1 77 27.70 5/ 1
Waqar Younis 94 27.91 1/ 0 68 32.55 0/ 0
Mitchell Johnson 137 28.05 4/ 1 137 28.05 4/ 1
Makhaya Ntini 380 28.64 18/ 4 339 29.59 17/ 4
Graeme Swann 62 29.41 4/ 0 62 29.41 4/ 0
Chris Cairns 68 29.63 4/ 0 44 37.15 2/ 0
Chaminda Vaas 247 29.69 8/ 1 214 29.92 8/ 1

The ODI plunderers

An average of 40 or a strike rate of 80 used to be a high benchmark in days gone by, but in the noughties it wasn't such a tall order. In the 1980s the two feats were almost mutually exclusive - Viv Richards was the only one who combined both. Kapil Dev, Saleem Malik and Ian Botham were among those who scored quickly but fell well short of averaging 40, while Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Dean Jones and Javed Miandad were among those who averaged more than 40 but scored at a strike rate of below 80.

In the 1990s Sachin Tendulkar and Saeed Anwar fulfilled both criteria, but no one else. Shahid Afridi, Sanath Jayasuriya and Aravinda de Silva were among those with a high strike rate but sub-40 average, while Michael Bevan, Martin Crowe, Brian Lara and Jacques Kallis were among those with high averages but lower strike rates.

In the 2000s, though, it was much easier to marry the two - 11 players managed it. The list reads thus: Michael Hussey, MS Dhoni, Darren Lehmann, Tendulkar, Pietersen, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Shane Watson, Jonty Rhodes, Chris Gayle and Graeme Smith. As many as 44 batsmen scored at a strike rate of more than 80, more than three times the number in the previous decade, which indicates just how much the rules of the game changed.

Batsmen in the top 7 in each decade (Qual: 50 matches in the decade)
Period Total batsmen Ave >= 40 SR >=80 Ave>=40 & SR>=80
1980s 50 8 (16%) 6 (12%) 1 (2%)
1990s 87 13 (14.94%) 10 (11.49%) 2 (2.30%)
2000s 118 24 (20.34%) 44 (37.29%) 11 (9.32%)

Again, it was the lot of the bowlers to suffer. In the 1980s, only 17% of the bowlers who bowled more than 2000 balls in the decade conceded more than 4.5 runs per over; in the 2000s, it increased to more than 66%. In the '80s, there were as many as 18 bowlers - led by Joel Garner and Richard Hadlee - who had an economy rate of less than four runs per over; that number reduced to six in the last decade.

In the 80s and 90s bowlers who averaged less than 25 also had an economy rate of less than 4.5. That relationship didn't hold true in the 2000s, with three bowlers - Brett Lee, Shoaib Akhtar and Makhaya Ntini - taking their wickets at less than 25 but conceding more than four-and-a-half runs to the over.

Bowlers in each decade (Qual: 2000 balls bowled in the decade)
Period Total bowlers Ave <=25 Econ rate <=4.50 Ave<=25 & ER<=4.50
1980s 47 8 (17.02%) 39 (82.98%) 8 (17.02%)
1990s 74 12 (16.22%) 52 (70.27%) 12 (16.22%)
2000s 104 12 (11.54%) 35 (33.65%) 9 (8.65%)

There were a few encouraging signs for the bowlers, most notably in the promise shown by Aamer and Roach in Australia, and in the match-winning abilities of Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad in England and South Africa. Mitchell Johnson, Zaheer Khan, James Anderson and Dale Steyn have had moments to savour, and plenty will be expected from them as they lead their teams' bowling attacks into the next decade. Daniel Vettori and Harbhajan Singh lead the spin brigade, but they'll need much more support from the rest of the cast. Batsmen had too much going their way in the 2000s; one can only hope that the bowlers return the favour in the 2010s.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

© ESPN EMEA Ltd.

Comments: 22 
Posted by RyanStephen on (January 7, 2010, 20:50 GMT)

It's great that Tendulkar's so good overseas, but if Kallis has a higher overall average, then it just simply means he's a much better player than Tendulkar at home. Half a player's matches are played away and half at home, so it's just as important to be good at home as it is to be good overseas. Simply put, overall stats is a player's overall performance and you can't judge greatness on only half a player's stats.

So let's just say Tendulkar's a better batsman because he's done it for a longer period of time, but if you take a look at Kallis' bowling: 259 wickets at 31.36 average and then Tendulkar's bowling: 44 wickets at 52.22 average. There's no comparison, Kallis is the better player.

Posted by Nibsy on (January 7, 2010, 19:19 GMT)

Kallis, Yousuf and Ponting are a product of facing easier attacks. These guys would average considerably less if playing in the nineties. I am pretty confident that Lara, Tendulkar and SR Waugh of the nineties would outscore the noughties if facing the same attacks of the nineties.

Posted by TheAlpacinoOfSydney on (January 6, 2010, 23:28 GMT)

One thing you guys don't get. Tendulkar averages 54.28 overseas, after playing 90 matches overseas. In Australia, he averages 58.33, England 62, NewZealand 50, South Africa 40 and West Indies 48. He has faced the greatest bowling attacks of his time. He absolutely smashed Shane Warne, the greatest leg spinner of all time, the spinner even admits he was the toughest batsman to bowl to. Alan Donald admits he is the greatest batsman to ever play against him. Kallis is definitely not as good a player, for example, he averages 45 in Australia, 29 in England, 55 in India, 35 in Sri Lanka and 50 in West Indies. Jayawardene is absolutely hopless overseas- 34 in Australia, in England, 42, in New Zealand, 27 and in SouthAfrica, 31 . Ponting, although a great player, cannot play spin competentely, averaging a pathetic 20 in India. Tendulkar is the man for all terrains, the finest batsman of our generation, and he has played for 2 decades, not one, averaging 58 in the 1990s.

Posted by RyanStephen on (January 6, 2010, 19:49 GMT)

Jacques Kallis Bat average of 55 more than 10 000 runs Bowl average of 31 more than 250 wickets Both Lara and Tendulkar have smaller batting averages Yo He's in his own league!!

Posted by Jonny_Tyldesley on (January 6, 2010, 15:09 GMT)

I do find it quite amusing that everyone is going on debating about who is better - Lara??? Tendulkar??? Let us take a quick look at the top of the table shall we? Both Ricky Ponting and Mr 'for some reason never really appreciated' Jacques Kallis averaged more than Lara and Tendulkar in this decade, whether it be against the top 8 teams or all teams included. And let us consider this also; take away Brian Lara's 400 n.o. against england (magnificent though it was) and what would he have averaged this decade? 50.99. Also, Jacques Kallis has never scored a double century, yet see how high his average for the decade and career still are. And then there is his bowling, 250 wickets at 31 apiece! He'd get in most teams on his bowling alone. Kallis has nowhere near the flare of a Lara/Tendulkar/Ponting, but a more effective and reliable player in any situation you will struggle to find. Abit more acknowledgement of the achievements of both Ponting and Kallis is sorely needed

Posted by Statz on (January 6, 2010, 13:58 GMT)

balajiaiak86 - even against Australia Tendulkar has faced mostly 2nd/3rd rate bowling attacks. In this decade he averages 36, if I recall corrrectly, against Australia in matches where both Warne and McGrath played.

Face it. Neither Sachin nor Lara played very well altogether against the best attacks of the 90s which makes this whole 00s bashing a moot point. What is ironic, as I pointed out, that Ponting averaged 40 against the West Indies, 50 against South Africa and 63 against Pakistan in the 90s - essentially, the best attacks of the time. So it doesn't wash one iota. All 3 are great batsmen, but making it out as if Lara and Sachin achieved something Ponting didn't is not only intellectually dishonest...it is a fabrication.

Posted by balajiaiak86 on (January 5, 2010, 12:04 GMT)

@statz "This whole "Sachin/Lara scored runs when it was harder" ... They both were inferior.. Remove minnows from 2000 onwards and Sachin averages 47 which gives.. decade." It kind of is a valid point. And with that you take away what he did against the yellow fellows (aussies) his average might drop well below 25..and he would have 19 centuries less than what he has now. I love aussie dry sense of humour(ya! i love the movie 'The Dish' starring sam neill).. this one is way to dry bruce.. i remember sachin hits a spanking straight drive of bret lee at sydney, the delivery was bowled at 150kmph and was hit back with more speed and ian-double-chappel on commentary says 'this is where he USED to be good'.. USED to be good? its an unfunny joke.. its a joke.. but very pathetic at that.. the brucies need to grow up.. you can say 'ponting is great' a 1000 times on channel 9.. unfortunately channel 9 covers only australia, if im right? try it on BBC.. they are all over the planet..

Posted by ZA77 on (January 5, 2010, 4:52 GMT)

It is very difficult to judge that if two batsman of different eras have 50 batting average and which one is better. Hayden and Gavaskar both have batting average 50 in test but I think with all aspects, Gavaskar is better. It is very difficult to judge batsman of two different eras. I think since 1990, Lara is the best and most complete batsman that cricket has ever produced. As far as Don average is concerned, his batting average is almost double than any other batsman but how can we judge that he is the best as he played cricket on ten grounds only with six bowlers took 100 or more in their career in which three came after world war II and one just before it with half career time less and also four, five and six day test matches. In actual he played cricket against only one team that was England. There are so many other facts as well but whenever it comes that who is best, majority says he is the best due to average which I think is not true in actual.

Posted by Markus71 on (January 4, 2010, 21:23 GMT)

Well said Statz. Why do many Journalists continue to compare Bowling Quality & Batsmans Averages with those of decades gone by? What if todays Bowlers & Batsman did the same! The question should be asked .. What would you think of todays Batsman if the strike rates & averages were the same as yesteryear? Enjoy the Game for what it is Today!!

Posted by KanchanBNZ on (January 4, 2010, 20:53 GMT)

Kudos to Andy Flower! Given that a) he played the vast majority of his cricket at the beginning of the decade, and b) his two highest scores of the decade came against India and South Africa before the "benign" nature of pitches started to infect cricket.

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.
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